As some of you may know, I was lucky enough to help produce a show (in all of my spare time, ha!) called ‘Modern Dads’ which premieres tonight on A&E after ‘Duck Dynasty’.
Before the series kicks off, I thought it might be cool to get to know these Austin dads a little bit better. Check out these amazing conversations about touring with the Grateful Dead, parenting, second chances and family.
Let’s meet Rick (the veteran)…
ADRIAN: I’ve only been a stay-at-home dad for a little over three years, so your resume and experience puts me to shame, but we do have something in common. You just crossed the decade mark on being a primary caregiver – is there a part of you that is a tiny bit resentful (I tend to think about this sometimes) about giving up your professional aspirations to care for your children?
RICK: With the boys, I stayed home for seven years and once they went to school, I started planning the next move. The time with the boys was incredible and positive in every way. The girls were a surprise. Meghan and I both made the assumption that I would stay at home but I was somewhat resentful. I felt like Al Pacino in the God Father: ( I tried to get out and they just sucked me right back in.)
Staying at home was much more of a struggle the second time around. For one thing, they are twins and that really raised the bar. It required a little more resolve. The show really re-energized me as a parent because it gave me an interest outside of my family and also I got to interact with real adults. No more seeking out the drive-through for adult interaction.
ADRIAN: Give us an idea of a ‘day in the life’ of a stay-at-home parent. Does your veteran status allow you to kick back a little more when it comes to disciplining or do you still kinda hover (like Nathan, sorry Nate!) a little bit?
RICK: Meghan and I kind of approach parenting like we are managing a sports team. We have a philosophy that we believe in, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers have a philosophy that they instill in its players. We aren’t raising children so much as we are raising future adults so we want our kids to be independent and thoughtful and considerate of others.
I won’t micro manage my kids because I am not planning on being there when they are 25 to make decisions for them. I won’t let the kids endanger themselves but I also won’t try to dictate their every move. The girls know the meaning of “no” but I’m still laid back because I want them to be independent and to learn from mistakes they make.
You pick your battles…I love talking with the boys when they screw up because that’s how they learn to make decisions. Also, I really have a hard time with raising kids to think they are the center of the universe because its ultimately a disservice. The motto in our home is: It’s not about you, it’s about us.
I think I can be a little more laid back on a day-to-day basis because I have a really good sense of my kids. I know which one is much more likely to run in a parking lot or which one has a more difficult time playing with others. Like potty training: new parents sweat over potty-training their first child. My first two didn’t start using the potty until they had made up their minds they would do it, no matter what we did. So, now I don’t sweat it because you never see adults walking around in diapers, for one thing. Again we are raising future adults, not a pack of dogs.
ADRIAN: What are your plans when the kids are finally move out of the house? Will you retire? CAN you retire?
RICK: I’m going to live in their dorm rooms and work as a Wal-Mart Greeter. Actually, retiring doesn’t appeal to me. Having all of the kids out of the house will feel like permanent vacation enough.
And this conversation with Nathan (the new dad)…
ADRIAN: I enjoyed our dinner outside of DC a few weeks ago. Before we ate, you told me a story about a bad car wreck that you got into when you were younger. What exactly happened? Do you ever think about how lucky you are to be here and building such a loving family?
NATHAN: I too thoroughly enjoyed our dinner, and I hope that we can break bread again soon. I was in a life-changing car accident the summer after my junior year of high school. I was on my way to band practice (I was in a shitty little high school band) one evening in July when I decided to take a shortcut to shave a few minutes of off my trip.
There was a “Y” in the road, so I proceeded to take the little dirt crossover to save some time. Unfortunately, my little Mazda truck got high-centered on the lip of the road, and it was stuck like Chuck. Although I was in the middle of Argyle, Texas and cars rarely use that road, I was still stuck and needed to free my truck from the asphalt lip. I put on the parking brake and went around to the rear of the truck and tried to shake the truck hard enough to free it.
Well, it worked. The truck came free and started rolling backwards down the 45-degree dirt crossover. (Oh, I bought the truck used and didn’t realize the parking brake no longer worked). I panicked! I tried to stop it from rolling down the hill, but obviously I didn’t have superhuman strength to stop the momentum of a several thousand pound vehicle. I ran to get out of the way of the truck, but it got caught in some ruts in the dirt and hit me with such force that it immediately shattered a vertebrae in my neck. C-7 to be exact.
To make matters worse, I was impaled in a barbed wire fence and had to rip myself out of the fence. Obviously, I was in serious danger. I freed myself from the fence, and I stood up. When I turned my head to see where my truck rolled, my legs buckled, and I fell to the ground. To my absolute horror, I had no feeling from the neck down. When I realized I couldn’t move, I began to cry. I said my goodbyes and waited.
Miraculously, I regained feeling over several minutes and was able to stand. I noticed a lonely car driving down the road, so I did everything in my power to get the car to stop. It didn’t. I knew that if I didn’t do something at that point, I was going to die. I stumbled to my truck, and I drove several miles to my home.
Yes, I drove home with a broken neck. The will to survive is strong. My parents called an ambulance, and I was rushed to a local Denton, Texas hospital. After numerous X-rays, I was flown to Harris Hospital in Fort Worth to have surgery. I was in a neck brace for many months and had to sit out the first semester of my senior year. It was an excruciatingly long recovery, but I made it through it. My neurosurgeon told me I was about a millimeter from being paralyzed.
I realize how fortunate I am. That accident fundamentally changed my life in so many positive ways. It made me realize that life is fleeting, so you better make the most of every moment. I’m a loving husband, dedicated father, and loyal friend. I love hard because I know we’re not guaranteed tomorrow.
I’ve told the story hundreds of times, but this is the first time I’ve ever written it.
ADRIAN: Many couples have trouble conceiving and by watching this first season, the audience may not know that you and Truly went through in vitro fertilization. How did you manage your emotions throughout the process and what was your ultimate feeling after finding out on Mother’s Day 2011 that you were having a baby?
NATHAN: We tried to have a child for a couple of years before we decided to do in vitro. We knew we wanted to have a child and considered adoption as well. It was certainly an emotional roller coaster during the process. Truly had to take a lot of hormones, and they took a toll on her, physically and emotionally.
I was at a Mother’s Day brunch with my stepmom and dad (my mom was out-of-town) when I got the news. “We’re pregnant!”, Truly told me on the phone. She had to work that day and was unable to join us for brunch. We both started to cry. I don’t remember much after the call at brunch. It was one of the best moments of my life right up there with Cormac’s birth and marrying my soulmate.
ADRIAN: As a new dad, it’s understandable that you’re very protective of Cormac, what happens if you and Truly have a girl and will you parent any differently?
NATHAN: My brother has three girls, so I thought we’d have a girl too. This is an extremely difficult question to answer since I simply don’t know if my parenting style would be any different. I’m sure it would be since boys and girls are different, but it’s hard to give specifics. I’ve always thought the father-daughter relationship was special, and I’d be ecstatic to have a girl if we decide to have more children. With that said, I think it’s easier for me to relate to my boy since I’m one as well. No profound statements here. 🙂
And with Sean (the stepdad)…
ADRIAN: After working in comedy in LA for over a decade, there’s nothing more in this world that I respect than the stand-up comedian. You’re putting your life out there for everyone to see (AND COMMENT ON). Many of my readers don’t know this, but you were diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the young age of 29. While you we’re going through treatment, did you continue to perform? Where was your head at? Did the illness or treatment affect your POV on having a family?
SEAN: First of all thank you for giving props to my art form. It is extremely, brutally hard to become even a mediocre stand-up comedian so thanks for recognizing all of us joke merchants out there. When I was diagnosed I was writing on a TV show. I would get chemo once a week but I kept on writing, putting in 60-70 hour weeks. I wasn’t doing much stand up because I didn’t have the energy for it. My head was just about getting through every day and trying to keep going on the show.
I didn’t know at this point if I was going to do stand-up again or not because I really saw myself moving into writing. I had lost the urge to perform for whatever reason. It was probably a temporary side effect of being overwhelmed and not feeling very funny. Obviously stand-up is in my heart and is a HUGE part of who I am. It’s been great to me over the years and has been responsible for most of the highlights of the last ten years (that don’t involve my family).
The illness affected my POV on having a family in a big way. First of all I got told I had a 50/50 chance to live five years. So you don’t start planning long-term things like kids when you get that kind of news.
Second – the chemotherapy made me sterile. So there’s that. I did bank some DNA before starting treatment but that’s a big undertaking if you want to get pregnant that way. It kind of put the whole “having kids” thing further away as a thought. It had never been a goal of mine to have them and now I felt like I probably wasn’t going to.
That being said, being with Rachel and raising our daughters together is far and away the greatest thing in my life. I got incredibly lucky and fell in love with a woman who had two beautiful children. I got a plug and play family!
ADRIAN: You and Rachel are an absolutely beautiful couple, how did you meet her and what was the original connection?
SEAN: Thank you for saying that. I like to think she’s my much, much, much, much better half. Actually can she be my two-thirds? I want her to be my better 75%. We met in Seattle. I was recording a DVD at a club up there and I Googled some production companies. She happened to run one and happened to be the first one to call me back. It’s so by chance that we met.
We got to know each other a little bit over the next couple years by working together on different projects but I never thought anything would come of it because she was married and I was married. Then I was divorced but she was still married. The whole time I was in love with her but I never even said anything like, “Your husband is a lucky man.” I wasn’t going to go there. I would essentially see her one or two times a year and then think about her the other 11 months. This went on for almost three years.
To be honest I think we both fell in love at first sight. But it took a while for the stars to align for us. One day out of the blue I got a phone call from her telling me she had split up with her husband. I was shocked out of my freakin’ gourd. Then she told me she had a crush on me.
Holy moly, right? I was like, “Really? Is the universe really being this awesome to me?” Because after cancer and a divorce I was used to the universe not being so awesome to me.
So I told her I was emailing her a present and I forwarded her my plane ticket to Seattle. I flew up there two weeks later and took her away to the beach for the weekend.
Three weeks later I left LA and moved in with her. It was that fast and that obvious to me that she was the love of my life.
We actually said we loved each other before our first kiss. Our connection was that strong!
The nice thing about our first year together was that I was on the road way more than I am now. So a lot of our courtship was on the phone. We were forced to talk and talk and talk for hours. It also helped me ease into the kids’ lives. When I was at home with Rachel we used to tell them at night that I was going to my hotel after I put them to bed. Then I would get up super early, get dressed, sneak outside and show up at their front door from my “hotel”. It was all very sweet and perfect.
ADRIAN: Do you ever think about becoming Arwen & Joopsey’s legal father? What does that mean for you?
SEAN: I think about it all the time and if it were simple I’d have done it years ago. First, Rachel and I need to get around to getting married. As you probably know, once you have kids your lives get so busy it becomes difficult to find time for a date night at the Olive Garden, let alone planning a wedding!
It’s an incredibly complicated thing to do, both legally and emotionally.
However I do know that they call me dad and that I am their father. Being a dad is being the person who is there every day. It’s being the person who provides love and guidance and time and who lives and dies with their successes and failures. And that’s what I do. I father and raise and dad these kids to the nth degree.
Would a piece of paper make that more real? No.
Would it be nice to have it? Yes. Yes, I would love it. But it wouldn’t change who they already are to me and what I already am to them. I’m their daddy.
I have to say in some respects I like the unusual way I became a father. Some men fall into fatherhood. Some men have fatherhood thrust on them. Some are a little bit of both. I chose to be a father. I chose to be these girls’ father. I could have just been the guy who lived and loved with Rachel and ignored them, but that wasn’t the path I walked.
I dove headfirst into being a poppa and it’s the best decision I ever made. It made me a more complete person and man. In fact I can’t imagine my life without kids and I can tell you I never thought I’d say that! Okay, now I’m tearing up. Time to end the interview before I blubber on my computer! Apple Care doesn’t cover water damage!
And last but certainly not least, Stone (the single dad)…
ADRIAN: Word has it that when you were young, you toured with The Grateful Dead, along with your dad. I’m a huge fan of The Dead and remember vividly the day that Jerry died. I was in college at the time, we abandoned classes and held vigil off-campus. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience? How has your relationship with your dad translated into the relationship with you and your daughter, Danica?
STONE: It was just a normal experience for me from what I can remember… you know? It was just what was going on around me when I was little. One thing to know about that scene is that everyone involved with the Dead was part of the “family”. I can remember running around backstage and sitting inside some of those huge speakers during shows. There was one time when I must have been around 3-4 and we were backstage at a New Riders of the Purple Sage concert (those were all good buddies with the GD) and I went out during the last song thinking we were going to sing the theme to the Mickey Mouse Club… I rocked it into a dead mic while they sang whatever song.
At the end some lady in the front row gave me a big ‘ol kiss on the cheek. After we moved to Texas and the GD played at Manor Downs, Kidd Candelario sent me out into the crowd with a stack of backstage passes and told me to “go find the pretty girls”… I think I was 8 or 9, hahaa. It wasn’t until I was in High School and had a bunch of Dead Head buddies that realized how big the GD were. It was cool, I could call the GD Headquarters in San Rafael and get tickets to any Dead show. I took a bunch of friends up to Dallas for a show and watched them geek out over our “family”.
My dad and mom split up when I was really little, around 3 or 4. He didn’t have his dad around when he grew up so I don’t really think he knew much about being a dad. With that said, he made sure that I always felt loved. It was more of a friendship than your traditional fathering which had it’s positives and negatives. I’ve taken that and built on it with raising my kids. I used a little more fatherly approach and I really couldn’t ask for three better kids!!
I lost my dad last year after his battle with liver cancer and that was definitely the hardest thing to go through. I’m very happy that he got to spend a lot of time with my kiddos before he passed. That whole experience brought us all even closer as a family.
ADRIAN: If I remember correctly, being single was fucking amazing, are you looking for a soul mate? Are you interested in settling down in the future?
STONE: After both of my divorces I said “I’m NEVER getting married again!!” I think that’s probably the way most guys feel when it’s still fresh. Don’t get me wrong, being single is great and has plenty of perks but yea, I have to say that at times I totally envy what the guys have with their significant others. Everything from having a partner to help with parenting all the way to just having that extra loving support from your “soulmate”, which I believe the guys (Nate, Rick and Sean) have with their ladies.
ADRIAN: My daughter will be 4 in October and she teaches me something new every day. What influence does Danica have on your life and has she taught you anything or shaped you as a person?
STONE: It’s funny how much they teach us isn’t it? Dani is such a little ham that she’s taught me that it’s good to be able to laugh at myself and ok act a little goofy in public. At the end of the day, who really cares what other people think. The only important thing really is that we have each other and we’re a strong little family.